12/09/2010 12:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Do My Genetics Determine My Future?

My mother is BRCA positive, after multiple surgeries and a life changing few years, I know what that has meant for her. But now I have to start asking, what does that mean for the whole family?

BRCA refers to the Breast Cancer Susceptibility Genes, 1 or 2 . These are tumor suppressor genes in which certain harmful mutations are linked to increased incidence of breast and ovarian cancer.

Being BRCA positive increases your chance of getting breast and cancer, particularly at a young age. In women, it can increase your chance of cervical, uterine, pancreatic, colon, stomach, gallbladder and bile duct cancer too. In men it can increase your chance of breast, pancreatic, testicular and early onset prostate cancer.

To put the risk into perspective, about 12 percent of all women will get breast cancer, but 60 percent of BRCA positive women will. Having a harmful BRCA 1 or 2 mutation increases your chances of getting breast cancer by five times. Ovarian cancer risk is even greater with a harmful BRCA mutation increasing your chances by 10 to 29 times; Yes, you read it right -- that's times, not percent.

Knowing that we have a strong family history of cancer and that my mom is BRCA positive, I have to know that my brother and I may be too. I have decided to get tested.

So, if I test positive what does that mean? Maybe nothing at all. It just means I'm at higher risk, not that I will necessarily get cancer. It does mean that I should take some extra safety steps though -- and those vary drastically. The mildest option is risk avoidance, exercise regularly, limit alcohol intake and don't smoke. This shouldn't be a problem for me. The most drastic is prophylactic surgery; a bilateral mastectomy and/or a salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries -- many doctors believe that ovarian cancer originates in the fallopian tubes). In my opinion, the most reasonable option is early detection. This means knowing the earliest warning signs and getting screened regularly in the form of mammograms, breast MRI's, and transvaginal ultrasounds. Self breast exams are a quick, easy and very important way get to know the girls. They aren't about finding a lump as much as getting to know your breasts, so if something does change, you'll know. To make getting to know the gals easier, the FCancer Team made this fool-proof version of the old classic.

What will a negative test mean? That I'm still at risk for cancer like everyone else, and that early detection is my best bet. The surveillance mentioned above is still a pretty good idea, no matter what your genetics may say about you.

There are many arguments for and against knowing your genetic predispositions. Some argue it's too much knowledge, and others argue that it arms us with the information to make the right choices. While I may be scared to find out if I am BRCA positive, I still want to know.

What's your family history and risk? Should you be getting tested? Find out here.